FERGUSSON, Sir Adam, 3rd Bt. (1733-1813), of Kilkerran, Ayr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1774 - 1780
2 Apr. 1781 - 1784
31 Aug. 1784 - 1790
1790 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 7 May 1733, 1st surv. s. of Sir James Fergusson, 2nd Bt., of Kilkerran, SCJ (Lord Kilkerran) by Jean, da. and h. of James, Visct. Maitland, 1st s. of John, 5th Earl of Lauderdale [S]. educ. Maybole sch.; Edinburgh Univ. MA 1773, LLD 1783; adv. 1755; Brussels 1756-7; Grand Tour 1757-8. unm. suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 20 Jan. 1759.

Offices Held

Ld. of Trade July 1781-May 1782.

Rector, Glasgow Univ. 1768-70.


Fergusson was ‘an able man and of a respectable character’,1 who had made a fine reputation as counsel for the Hamiltons in the Douglas case. He had experienced various vicissitudes in his early political career; in general he supported the government in the House, although he showed a certain independence. He was returned unopposed for Ayrshire in 1790 with Henry Dundas’s backing. This was in accordance with an agreement of 1784 between Dundas and the Ayrshire magnates. Fergusson’s bitter enemy, James Boswell, appealed in vain for Dundas’s support.2

Fergusson continued to vote with government after 1790. Dundas had thought him a proper person for a seat at the Treasury or at the Admiralty and had commended him to Pitt accordingly. On 29 Jan. 1791 Pitt wrote to the King, recommending that the position of surveyor of crown lands be given to Fergusson, ‘who has been a steady supporter and is capable of being a very useful man of business’. The King acquiesced, but it seems likely that the offer was refused. Had he accepted an office like this one compatible with Parliament, his re-election for Ayrshire was thought secure, but if he accepted one that vacated his seat, there would have been an unwelcome vacuum in Ayrshire.3 He spoke rarely and may have attended the House infrequently owing to an indifferent state of health. He supported Yorke’s motion on free postage for judges, 9 May 1791, and on the following day spoke and voted for Sir Gilbert Elliot’s motion for a committee on the repeal of the Test Act for his compatriots. During the debate of 9 May 1796 on the real succession tax bill, he pointed out that the bill would be impracticable in Scotland and objected to the tax altogether ‘as one that would be particularly unpopular in Scotland, where there was a vast partiality to family estates, a partiality which it was wise to encourage’. His only other surviving vote in this Parliament was as an anti-abolitionist on the slave trade motion of 15 Mar. 1796. On 12 Apr. following he was a member of the committee to review expiring legislation.

Fergusson did not seek re-election in 1796. In the following year he declined an appointment to India suggested by the King on account of age,4 but continued to be active in local politics. He followed an independent line when directing his interest in Ayrshire in succeeding elections and at the by-election in March 1811 he proposed Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton, who defeated Lord Eglintoun’s brother, although the latter was supported by Lord Melville.5

He died 23 or 25 Sept. 1813. In 1796 he failed to establish his claim, through his mother, to the earldom of Glencairn.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: D. G. Henry


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 19.
  • 2. See AYRSHIRE; NLS mss 16, f. 3.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/157, f. 331; Geo. III Corresp. i. 651; SRO GD51/1/198/3/2.
  • 4. SRO GD51/1/198/3/7, 51/1/527.
  • 5. SRO GD51/1/198/3/56.